The giving season is here. And that doesn’t just mean bountiful gifts to friends and family. GivingTuesday, held the Tuesday after Thanksgiving in the United States, inspires the public and businesses to donate to charitable organizations. This hashtag-driven holiday generated $3.1 billion for U.S.-based nonprofits in 2022, according to GivingTuesday Data Commons. It’s also a popular season to sneak in tax-deductible donations before year’s end.
Companies that give back to the community
Businesses are significant philanthropic supporters this season and beyond. According to the Giving USA annual philanthropy report, corporate giving totaled $29.48 billion in 2022. While some companies opt for one-time gifts, social enterprises build giving back into the fabric of their operations. From leaders in the field to emerging businesses, meet four companies that give back to the community and were founded with impact in mind.
When they learn the most requested item in homeless shelters is socks, most people stash away that fact and move on or maybe donate a few pairs of new socks since old pairs can’t be reused for hygiene reasons. Bombas co-founders Randy Goldberg and David Heath, however, launched a community-oriented company that, as of 2023, has donated 100 million clothing items. “You have to be the kind of person that reacts to that information in a certain way… Pretty much our first reaction was, ‘Why?’ There was a curiosity to it,” Goldberg says. The duo started asking questions and volunteering and eventually founded their business in 2013.
Bombas, which later became a B corporation recognizing its benefit to people, the community and the planet, places its mission center stage for employees and customers. “We wanted to be mission forward because we wanted to solve the problem in our community more than we really wanted to build a successful business,” Goldberg says.
It uses a one-for-one model: One pair of socks is donated for each one purchased. “It was the best suited model based on the unit economics of what we’re doing. And then from a storytelling perspective—which is so important, right?—it’s a very simple and digestible story,” he says.
After speaking with members of the homeless community, including representatives from the now 3,500-strong network of community giving partners who distribute Bombas’ socks across all 50 states and in the U.K., the company also created a donation sock that meets unhoused people’s needs. The socks have reinforced seams to make them last longer, are dark to make them less likely to show wear and are given an antimicrobial to keep the wearer’s feet healthy even if the socks go unwashed.
“We think of the donation stocks as going to our non-paying customers. In the same way that we treat our customers with research and development and getting their feedback [for our products], we wanted to do that for our non-paying customers.” Bombas has also branched out into underwear and T-shirts—the second and third most requested items in homeless shelters.
Goldberg says a key to their success is making the philanthropic mission core. “If you’re treating it as a project, that’s the way it’s going to seem to your employees and the public,” he says. “You also have to over-communicate about it. If it’s important to you, you should be talking about it to the point where you feel like you’re talking about it too much.… You also have to communicate about it authentically. You have to show your work and prove what you’re doing. It’s important to close that loop, not just to get credit for it, but so your customers understand the thing you’re doing, how it relates to them and why they should pay attention.”
Scot Tatelman grew up camping. After years of feeling the experience’s personal impacts and seeing it in other children whose families could afford it, he looked beyond the usual slate of campers to found Camp Power in 2009. He aimed the camp at kids from underfunded neighborhoods in his then-hometown of Brooklyn.
When he and his wife, Jacqueline, saw kids arriving at camp with torn garbage bags to carry their belongings, the duo created State Bags in 2013. For many years, State Bags operated on a one-for-one model: For every stylish diaper bag or weekender customers purchased, State gave a stuffed backpack to a kid who needed it.
“We used [the nonprofit] as a vehicle to support those kids from those communities,” Tatelman says. He says State Bags sets itself apart by being tuned into those it serves. “We’re really proud that we never do anything without listening first and acting after.”
The COVID-19 pandemic brought about the last Camp Power on the East Coast; however, Tatelman hopes to reestablish it on the West Coast where his family has relocated. In the meantime, the company has reshaped its giving mission. “Our bag drop events are unlike anything else out there, but I realized we didn’t want to pigeonhole ourselves,” he says. “Sometimes bags aren’t what people need.… So we shifted away from that one-to-one to supporting ways they need it most.”
The company has provided tutors for its Camp Power alumni during COVID-19, sponsored media campaigns around the #Whatdowetellthekids hashtag about difficult issues like racism and funded mind-opening travel for kids who have never left their neighborhoods.
Tatelman says measuring the giving program’s achievements lies within the communities the company serves. “Look for what hits home for you as a brand,” he says. “Customers are getting way too savvy. All we care about is being real, not only with customers but also with the people we are trying to serve.”
Upside Goods Co.
In the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, serial entrepreneur Ashley Fathergill’s outlook was bleak. The plans she envisioned for her mobile yoga studio and marketing company had crumbled. Burning a candle every day was a light in the darkness of her depression.
After a friend mentioned making her own candles amid the DIY boom—and hours of YouTube how-to videos later—Fathergill began melting wax. “It was a self-serving act to get me out of bed and to take back control by becoming an expert in something,” she recalls. When friends began requesting she make them candles too, Fathergill launched Upside Goods Co. in December 2020.
Giving back has always been part of the business model. After the highs and lows in her own journey, Fathergill donates to mental health causes. Upside Goods’ monetary donations have benefitted the Trevor Project and the Loveland Foundation’s therapy fund to provide counseling services to underserved communities and populations. Last year, Upside Goods Co. donated 1% of its online profits for the year. The amount varies by quarter.
With a relatively new and seasonal business, Fathergill prioritizes the long game. “I’ve accepted that while I always want to be giving more, just giving is good,” she says. “I don’t feel like you should sacrifice the good you can do two years from now to die on the hill for [more] donations now.”
Photo courtesy of Bombas.